Death, displacement and destruction as Lake Victoria rises

Ceaseless heavy rain has led to historic rise of water levels in the lake, causing floods

In Summary
  • In Kisumu county, over 2,000 people have been affected by floods in Nyando, Nyakach and Murononi.
  • Lake Victoria Basin Commission executive secretary Ally-Said Matano warns people living in lowlands to vacate to avoid disaster.
Fishermen in Lake Victoria's Mugabo beach
DANGEROUS: Fishermen in Lake Victoria's Mugabo beach
Image: FILE
Animals killed, homes submerged as River Nyando burst its banks on Tuesday
Image: faith matete
Homes submerged and others marooned as locals look for shelter following the burst of River Nyando on Tuesday
Image: faith matete

The heavy rain pounding Nyanza since last October, leading to backflow of water from Lake Victoria, has caused deaths, displacement and destruction of property in the region.

The rain has led to a historic rise of water levels in the lake, causing floods. Scientists attribute the phenomenon to climate change.

Many residents and business owners have been hit hard, including beach and hotel operators who have been forced to relocate or close their businesses.


The downpour has saturated the region sweeping away crops, homes and animals.

In Kisumu county, more than 2,000 people have been affected by floods in Nyando, Nyakach and Murononi. Some families are still living in rescue camps from last year's floods.

On Tuesday, River Nyando broke its banks. Families woke up in the morning to find their houses filled with water. They scrambled to rescue their property and move to higher grounds for safety.

Families have been forced to always stay alert during this period as water from the lake hits villages at night.

John Otieno from Kabonyo, Kadhiambo village, said they were using boats to access some areas. The continued rainfall and backflow from the lake will displace people from the area.

“For the past few months, we have seen and experienced the worst. For the 20 years I have been married in this area, we have had floods once in a while, but never witnessed the backflow from the lake,” Wilkister Aonya from Ombaka village said.

The villagers say the last time they witnessed such an incident was in 1963, which they never understood because no explanation was given on what was happening.


This week, Lake Victoria Basin Commission executive secretary Ally-Said Matano warned that the rising water levels will continue and strongly recommended that people living in lowlands should vacate to avoid a disaster.

Matano stated in a statement that the current rise of water level was the highest witnessed since 1964. He said between 1960 and 1964, the water level rose 2.5 metres.

He stated that the rising water level was premised on the water balance, which is largely determined by the inflow and outflow.

The inflow into the lake, he said, was primarily from rainfall, which accounts for over 80 per cent, and the remaining 20 per cent was from drainage systems into the lake.

Outflow, on the other hand, is primarily from evaporation, which accounts for 76 per cent, and outflow into the Nile, which accounts for 24 per cent.

From this analysis, it is apparent that rainfall plays a great role in determining the water level in Lake Victoria.

“At the moment, the level in Jinja, Uganda, is at 1135.8 metres above mean sea level while in Mwanza, Tanzania, it’s at 1134.28metres. In Kisumu, it’s at 1132.11 metres above mean sea level. These elevations are very important because they provide a snapshot of where a specific area is below or above the lake level,” Matano said.


In Migori county, five people were reported dead due to floods. More than 400 families in Migingo island and Muhuru Bay, Lwanda Komhango and Kibro are camping in schools after their homes were submerged following the rising level of water.

Kisumu Environment executive Salmon Orimba said the ever-increasing backflow of Lake Victoria was beyond the county capacity to control. The East African Community should find a solution, he said.

“As a county, we are currently ensuring that our people are safe and at the same time advising them to move to higher grounds,” he said.

He when the current Covid-19 is done away with, the lake will be dredged upon completion of the ongoing rehabilitation of Kisumu Port.

Magnam Environmental Network chairman Michael Nyaguti said environmental degradation, especially on the hilltops around the Lake Victoria basin, was a contributor to the increased water level.

“Trees which usually prevent soil erosion have been cut down, allowing massive run off of the water with soil into the nearby rivers and lake leading to siltation,” he said.

Nyaguti said deposition of soil into rivers and lake makes them shallow thereby, increasing the water level which causes backflow. This, he noted, can be solved through dredging of the lake to remove the mud deposits.

The activist also attributed siltation to agricultural activities along the river banks and lakeshore.

Nyaguti said river mouths, especially River Nyando, had been blocked due to huge deposits of soil following heavy rainfall in Nandi Hills thereby blocking water entry into the lake. That causes backflow into villages.

“People in Kakola and Ombaka areas are affected by the backflow of water due to the blockage on water entry points into Lake Victoria,” he added.

The rising temperature because of the increased carbon emission has affected the ozone layer, leading to the warming of water thereby increasing the volume in oceans and lakes.

“When the ozone layer is effected the sun penetrates easily and heats water directly causing warming and increase in volume,” the activist added.

To mitigate the problem, he advised massive planting of trees on the hilltops and adoption of modern farming methods especially along the river banks and lake to prevent siltation.

He also called for multisectoral efforts to control water pollution, especially direct discharge of raw effluent and other waste into rivers and lakes.

Nyaguti discouraged sand harvesting on river and lakeshores and instead proposed dredging of rivers and the lake to increase depth.


A 2015 report stated that the East African region was on the verge of a shift in climate change.

This is due to changes in weather patterns as a result of global warming which would see the water level in Lake Victoria rise in the next 10-15 years

The study was done by the North Carolina State University’s Department of Marine, Earth and Atmosphere Sciences in the US.

Fredrick Semazzi, professor and director of climate at North Carolina State University, stated that the lake would refill its waters at an almost unprecedented rate, which will result in its rise.

Semazzi indicated that according to the climate change projections, people should expect an increase in rainfall around the lake.

“This will have implications for economic development especially in climate-sensitive sectors including road network constructions, power generation and businesses along the lake," he said.

He there was a need to build technical capabilities of climate models to capture the regional factors and how they interact with global phenomena because the interaction between the lake and the general climate was important.

John Okumu, a fisherman, said they have been experiencing depletion of fish stocks due to water hyacinth and water pollution.

“Our earnings have drastically gone down. We are not getting enough fish like before,” he said.

Usoma Beach Management Unit chairman Zaibu Juma said fishermen should be involved in the management of the lake, especially the removal of the hyacinth. The unit has 150 members.

Juma said hyacinth had caused depletion of fish, adding that fishing would thrive if the weed was cleared from the water.

“Fishermen have died after being trapped in the lake. We are not getting enough fish like before due to the weed,” Juma said. 


The United Nations has signed a partnership with the Russian government to remove the noxious weed from Lake Victoria.

The removal of hyacinth will boost fishing and transport activities.

The Russian government has injected Sh700 million into the project, Ambassador Dimitry Maksimychev recently said.

The partnership between Russia, the United Nations and Kisumu county government seeks to clear more than 14,000 hectares of the hyacinth.

A variety of activities around the lake have led to large-scale pollution of the world’s second-largest freshwater lake.

The programme is to be implemented by the county government with technical support of UN Kenya.

Based on their comparative advantage and core expertise, the Food Agricultural Organisations and UNDP will together deliver technical support.

FAO will handle sustainable land management and environmental policy aspects while UNDP will focus on economic utilisation.

The project will seek to attract private sector interest especially in the converted products from hyacinth, providing input, equipment, finance and development of markets.

It targets to benefit 4.5 million people sharing the lake in the five riparian counties of Kisumu, Busia, Migori, Homa Bay and Siaya.

The project will focus on initiatives that transfer knowledge and skills to the communities living around the lake region with a focus on youth and women.

Maksimychev said the initial focus will be on Kisumu county.

“This programme is part of the government of Russia’s support for Africa’s sustainable development, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the Big Four agenda,” Maksimychev said.

UN resident coordinator in Kenya Siddharth Chatterjee said they were moving to the next practical steps after the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Kenya in November last year.

“I am delighted that UNDP and FAO will deliver as one UN Kenya’s ground-breaking support to improving livelihoods of millions of Kenyans living in the lake region,” he said.

The European Union has donated Sh260 million towards sustainable fishing in Lake Victoria.

The funding has been done through the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO), an institution of the East African Community.

The ecofish project is aimed at sustainable management and development of fisheries to contribute to poverty alleviation and food and nutrition security while addressing climate change resilience and enhancing marine biodiversity.

LVFO Deputy Executive Secretary Anthony Munyaho said the project will enhance the institutional, structural and legal frameworks of the organisation against the backdrop of expanded scope and mandate.

Edited by Henry Makori 

Homes Marooned as Nyando River breaks its banks
Locals in Nyando stranded after floods wrek havok in the area following the burst of River Nyando
Image: faith matete
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